Pinot noir is a red wine grape variety of the species Vitis vinifera. The name may also refer to wines created predominantly from Pinot noir grapes. The name is derived from the French words for pine and black. The word pine alludes to the grape variety having tightly clustered, pine cone-shaped bunches of fruit.
Pinot noir grapes are grown around the world, mostly in the cooler climates, and the grape is chiefly associated with the Burgundy region of France. Pinot noir is now used to make red wines around the world, as well as Champagne, and such sparkling white wines as the Italian Franciacorta, and English sparkling wines. Regions that have gained a reputation for red Pinot noir wines include: the Willamette Valley of Oregon, the Carneros, Central Coast, Sonoma Coast and Russian River AVAs of California, the Elgin and Walker Bay wine regions of South Africa, Mornington Peninsula, Adelaide Hills, Great Southern, Tasmania and Yarra Valley in Australia and the Central Otago, Martinborough and Marlborough wine regions of New Zealand. Pinot noir is the most-planted varietal (38%) used in sparkling wine production in Champagne and other wine regions.
Pinot noir is a difficult variety to cultivate and transform into wine. The grape’s tendency to produce tightly packed clusters makes it susceptible to several viticultural hazards involving rot that require diligent canopy management. The thin skins and low levels of phenolic compounds lends pinot to producing mostly lightly colored, medium-bodied and low-tannin wines that can often go through phases of uneven and unpredictable aging. When young, wines made from Pinot noir tend to have red fruit aromas of cherries, raspberries and strawberries. As the wine ages, pinot has the potential to develop more vegetal and “barnyard” aromas that can contribute to the complexity of the wine.
The leaves of Pinot noir are generally smaller than those of Cabernet Sauvignon or Syrah. The vine is typically less vigorous than either of these varieties. The grape cluster is small and conico-cylindrical; shaped like a pine cone. Some viticultural historians believe this shape similarity may have given rise to the name. In the vineyar, Pinot noir is sensitive to wind and frost, cropping levels (it must be low yielding for production of quality wines), soil types and pruning techniques. In the winery it is sensitive to fermentation methods and yeast strains, and is highly reflective of its terroir with different regions producing very different wines. Its thin skin makes it susceptible to bunch rot and similar fungal diseases. The vines themselves are susceptible to powdery mildew, especially in Burgundy infection by leaf roll, and fanleaf viruses causes significant vine health problems. These complications have given the grape a reputation for being difficult to grow: Jancis Robinson calls pinot a “minx of a vine” and André Tchelistcheff declared that “God made cabernet sauvignon whereas the devil made Pinot noir.” It is much less tolerant of harsh vineyard conditions than the likes of cabernet sauvignon, syrah, merlot or grenache.
The tremendously broad range of bouquets, flavors, textures and impressions that Pinot noir can produce sometimes confuses tasters. In the broadest teit tine tends to be of light to medium body with an aroma reminiscent of black and/or red cherry, raspberry and to a lesser extent currant and many other fine small red and black berry fruits. Traditional red Burgundy is famous for its savory fleshiness and “farmyard” aromas (these latter sometimes associated with thiol and other reductive characters), but changing fashions, modern winemaking techniques, and new easier-to-grow clones have favored a lighter, more fruit-prominent, cleaner style.
- Burgundy:Pinot noir has made France’s Burgundy appellation famous, and vice versa. Wine historians, including John Winthrop Haeger and Roger Dion, believe that the association between Pinot and Burgundy was the explicit strategy of Burgundy’s Valois dukes. Roger Dion, in his thesis regarding Philip the Bold’s role in promoting the spread of Pinot noir, holds that the reputation of Beaune wines as “the finest in the world” was a propaganda triumph of Burgundy’s Valois dukes. In any event, the worldwide archetype for Pinot noir is that grown in Burgundy, where it has been cultivated since AD 100.Burgundy’s Pinot noir produces wines which can age well in good years, developing complex fruit and forest floor flavours as they age, often reaching peak 15 or 20 years after the vintage. Many of the wines are produced in small quantities. Today, the Côte d’Or escarpment of Burgundy has about 4,500 hectares (11,000 acres) of Pinot noir. Most of the region’s finest wines are produced from this area. The Côte Chalonnaise and Mâconnais regions in southern Burgundy have another 4,000 hectares
- Oregon:Richard Sommers of HillCrest Vineyard in the Umpqua Valley of Oregon is the father of Oregon Pinot noir. An early graduate of UC Davis, Sommers moved north after graduation with the idea of planting Pinot noir in the Coastal valleys of Oregon. He brought cuttings to the state in 1959 and made his first commercial planting at HillCrest Vineyard in Roseburg Oregon in 1961. For this, he was honored by the Oregon State House of Representatives (HR 4A). In 2011 the State of Oregon honored him for this achievement and also for producing the first commercial bottling in the state in 1967. It was announced by the state of Oregon in the summer of 2012 that a historical marker would be placed at the winery in the summer of 2013.Sommers, who graduated from UC Davis in the early 1950s, brought Pinot Noir cuttings to Oregon’s Umpqua Valley in 1959 and planted them at HillCrest Vineyard in 1961. These first Pinot noir cuttings came from Louis Martinis Sr.’s Stanley Ranch located in the Carneros region of Napa Valley. The first commercial vintage from these grapes was the noted 1967 Pinot noir although test bottlings were made as early as 1963. In the 1970s several other growers followed suit. In 1979, David Lett took his wines to a competition in Paris, known in English as the Wine Olympics, and they placed third among Pinots. In a 1980 rematch arranged by French wine magnate Robert Drouhin, the Eyrie vintage improved to second place. The competition established Oregon as a world-class Pinot noir-producing region.The Willamette Valley of Oregon is at the same latitude as the Burgundy region of France and has a similar climate in which the finicky Pinot noir grapes thrive. In 1987, Drouhin purchased land in the Willamette Valley, and in 1989 built Domaine Drouhin Oregon, a state-of-the-art, gravity-fed winery. Throughout the 1980s, the Oregon wine industry blossomed.
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